Sunday, May 2, 2010

Having a bad day

Today is one of those days when you wish you had a rewind or fast forward button on life. Neither Owen nor I slept well last night. I heard foxes in heat all night long and Owen was coughing and trying to breath through a snot faucet. So, this morning, there was a lot of crying by both parties.

Yet, somehow, laundry still managed to get done and we both enjoyed our quiet play time: arts & crafts.

Here are our finished pieces:

By Owen

By Me

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Celebratory challah

Today is our 6th monthiversary in France. We are still settling in and adjusting to life (more about that in a later post). In celebration of today, Owen and I made challah. It was fun and YUMMY! Sean is in Switzerland preparing to hike the Haute Route. So he wouldn't miss out on the celebration, we froze half of the loaf for him. ;o)

We also have beautiful roses in bloom in our garden. I cut a few and now our house smells so wonderful. I wish this blog has smell-a-vision.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Where did April Go?

"Holy smokes" as Owen would say. Where did the month of April go?

So many things happened in April yet, as I look at our photos, not much was documented visually. So here are a few highlights:

1) Sean's first weekend ultimate tournament as a member of the A-team for 33Tours. The tournament was in Angers, a town about 4 hours north of Bordeaux.

The weekend started out with a huge purchase: a new car!

Just kidding... though we were very impressed (and Owen was very excited) that the dealership had mini cars to keep the kids occupied while mommies and daddies sign loads of paperwork. Here is the new car in the driveway moments after arrival:

Then, early Saturday morning, we packed up the car and headed up to Angers. The first game was at noon. We had quite an eventful trip. Sean's bank card was eaten by the ATM at a gas station on the way so we had to wait around for someone to extract the card. We arrived at the fields just in time for the games. The team did great! They were undefeated in all 4 of their games over the weekend. So many members of the team kept coming up to me on Sunday afternoon to tell me how great it was to have Sean on the team. He definitely looked good out there...

Team photo: précieux

Also precious is this picture of Owen napping at the fields:

For more photos and a description of the games, you can look at the team's website: 33Tours. We also really enjoyed the dorm-style hotel we stayed in called the Lac de Maine (about 30E per person per night including breakfast)

On Sunday, while the boys played (it's an open league but ther are no women on the A team), Owen and I headed to the quai of Angers to check out the boats. Unfortunately, we only saw 1 boat out on the water but Owen had a great time nonetheless running along the quai with his stroller (la poussette) and toy construction vehicles (loader = la chargeuse; backhoe = la tractopelle; dumptruck = le camion-benne).

2) We hosted our first BBQ in France!

Sean mowed A LOT of grass in preparation.

Courtney made a grass house with Owen and took Owen and Amy to look for deer (they didn't find any)

Owen and Amy played together in the sandbox and hammock.

It was a lot of fun. Thanks to Helen, Julien, Courtney, Pascal, Jasmina, Amy, Franck, Valentine, and Elliot (Saroumane) for coming and bringing tasty treats! :)

And tomorrow is not only May Day (May 1st), which is a bank holiday in France - even the supermarkets are closed - but it is also the 6th monthiversary of our moving to France!

A friend recently pointed out that I haven't done as much blogging about the ups and downs of the transition. She's right and I think it's because it really has been a rollercoaster and hard to put into words sometimes. But, tomorrow, while Owen naps, I will give it a try. So stay tuned... ;o)

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

French Healthcare Experience #2

At the beginning of April, I had another miscarriage. (For those who don't know, I had one in 2006 before Owen). Obviously it was a sad experience, though definitely not as difficult to deal with as last time. And the purpose of this blog isn't to talk about the loss, but to talk about my experience with the French healthcare system as a result.

Pro #1: It was easy to schedule an appointment with an OB/Gyn
In France, you basically call any doctor's office and say, "Je voudrais un rendez-vous" and they will see you. None of this, "what insurance do you have" or "we aren't taking new patients". I had gotten a recommendation for an English-speaking OB/Gyn from another American I met who has lived her for several years. When we found out I was pregnant, Sean made an appointment for an ultrasound when I would be 7 weeks along. I never made it that far. (Technically, this is called a chemical pregnancy).

When I started bleeding at just over 5 weeks pregnant, Sean was in California at a conference and I was home alone with Owen. I called the OB's office and told the receptionist what was going on (in French which made me feel quite proud). I was told to come in the next day at 10am and the doctor would see me.

Con #1: I am not suited for the laissez-faire attitude of the French medecin (doctor)
- At the appointment, for which I had to wait over 45 minutes to see the doctor, she was extremely nice and her English was excellent. But it was definitely a very different experience to an interaction with a doctor in the US. First, her office is an actual office. Not an exam room. A desk with chairs for the patient. Separated from the waiting room by a heavy (but not sound-proof) door. We sat facing each other and she I told her my medical history. She wrote it all down ON PAPER! There was not a computer to be seen! When I told her about my previous miscarriage and complications that arose and then the possibility that I was miscarrying again she nodded and said, "yes, well miscarriages are quite common." Not, "I'm sorry" or even the the sad head nod you expect when someone is being told difficult news. Just, a very "medical" approach to patient care. "Just the facts, ma'am. Just the facts."

-Then, we walked to her exam room which was attached to her office. She did leave while I undressed which was nice I guess. After her physical exam she said, "ok, let's go to the sonogram room." It was another room on the other side of her office. She told me to leave my clothes there and just walk. It was only 15 or so steps but it just seemed silly to me. I mean, I'm not a prude but as least offer me a towel or a gown or let me put my socks on so my feet don't freeze on your tile floor!

Pro #2: Modern technology
- I know this sounds lame but I notice these things. Her ultrasound machine was a newer model.

Con #2: Find your own lab for the blood draw and call us with the results
- After the ultrasound, it was clear that I was likely having a miscarriage and she wanted to confirm with a beta-HCG (pregnancy hormone) blood test. She wrote me a script and said, "just take it to any lab. If they are still elevated, go back in a few days. We'll talk once the results are back." Fortunately, I have a friend here who has a baby in December so I called her to ask where I could get my blood analyzed. Turns out, in France, there are specific Laboratoire d'Analysis, offices for the soul purpose of drawing blood. So, after lunch (with Helen who SAVED THE DAY by coming along to look after Owen) and a nap at home, off I went, with Owen in tow, to have my blood drawn. When I got to the place, I had to take a number and wait. The phlebotomist came and got me, drew my blood, then handed me a receipt. "You're results will be ready tomorrow afternoon, we're open until 7pm. Bring this receipt to get the results."

Wait, what? You don't call my doctor's office with the results? "No, we can fax them to the number on her prescription form but we cannot be responsible for whether she gets them." Uh, ok.

PS - never heard from the doctor but got the results myself and because of my previous pregnancy experience and the help of the wonderful ladies from my miscarriage support group site, I was able to interpret them on my own.

Pro #3- I paid virtually nothing!
- In the US, when my miscarriage was confirmed, the doctor's office sent me a bill for over $300. Apparently, my insurance company would not pay their fee for all the ultrasounds and blood work to confirm the miscarriage since, because the miscarriage was confirmed prior to 12 weeks of pregnancy, the insurance company did not consider that I was pregnant. UGH! That still makes me mad to think about almost 4 years later!

Anyway, in France, I had to pay 90Euros for the ultrasound because we haven't gotten our insurance card yet but we will be reimbursed at least 70% once we get our act together and mail in the form. I did not have to pay anything for the blood draws or the office visit itself.

Con #3: Did I mention that the doctor never called me back?!

Con #4: For some reason, I have a mental block about being able to find doctors' offices without taking a wrong turn on the incredibly windy roads in France. So, yes, we were 15 minutes late for the appointment.

Pro #4: No one cared that we were late and I was still seen. Even though they schedule appointments in France, I have yet to have an experience where I am seen on-time. But, if you show up at some point within an hour of your scheduled appointment, it seems that you will be seen.

So, all in all, it has been an interesting experience. I have now started to go to acupuncture which has also been quite different than my experience in the US. Primarily because, in France, in order to perform acupuncture, you must be a medecin. So, many of these same issues apply to the 3 times that I have seen him so far.

I have had to wait 2 of the 3 times for 45 minutes to be seen. The first time because, even though I was on-time for my appointment, a woman who was 15 minutes late for her appointment showed up just before the doctor came to the waiting room and I felt insecure about demanding to be seen first. Plus, I'm not really sure I would have known how to defend myself if the lady had started an argument over it.

I missed my first appointment with an acupuncturist because I couldn't find her office. Though I like the guy I ended up seeing so maybe it was meant to be.

The medecin de homeopathie that I am seeing now for acupuncture also has a desk in his office where we sit and go over my history. And he writes everything down on paper. Though, there is a computer on his desk. He uses this to schedule appointments and to log onto WordReference, an online dictionary, which has come in handy a few times. Though, for my part, we do about 90% of the session in French. But back to his record-keeping. In fact, all his records of all his patients are stored in manila envelopes in his treatment room for anyone to rummage through. And once he even had the previous patient's record open on his desk when I came in. Total HIPAA violation! :o)

What I like about this guy, however, is that he comes to get the patient personally. He has a "secretary" (I believe it's his wife) who answers the phone and helps schedule appointments but once you come to the office and are seated in the waiting room, he comes to greet you himself and he even escorts me back to the waiting room after the appointment.

So, like most of the experiences we've had during our transition to life on the "ex-pat planet" (thanks Concetta for the new phrase), our French Healthcare Experience continues to be filled with pros and cons as compared to our experiences in the US and, all in all, balances out. And, in the end, it gives us something to talk about (and hopefully laugh about) with our international friends.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

On our own

Owen and I have been trying to stay busy since Vovo and Daddy left. We are more than half-way through our solo adventure and both of us are not 100% (Owen has a stuffy nose, I have a sore throat) and the weather has taken a turn for the not-so-nice so we spent today inside. And we both got to enjoy a nice long afternoon nap.

But, I wanted to post a few cute pics from the past few days because we have had many fun moments.

1) On Sunday, we went to a picnic hosted by the Bordeaux Women's Club, an anglophone club here. The picnic was at a lake in Caradsac (about 20 minutes away though it took us an hour thanks to my inability to follow French road signs and directions). The lake was beautiful and Owen enjoyed throwing rocks into the water. There was also a playground. Owen is really enjoying the big boy swings these days and does a great job holding on! After the arm incident of last week, I am a bit overprotective.

2) Playing on the deck. With cars, of course.

3) Our "forest" of new trees. We have an olive tree, 2 orange trees (one clementine and one "Oranges from Mexico"), and a Yucca plant. The yucca and Mexican orange tree are not pictured. In there place in this picture is a lemon tree for which we are house sitting.

4) One of Owen's new favorite activities is playdough! We spent over an hour today making playdough pizzas, playdough animals, and, of course, playdough Pixar Cars.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Vovo's visit

My mom was here last week for a short visit. She had been in Mozambique on business and had to fly thru Lisbon. The original plan was that Owen and I would meet her in Lisbon but as Owen has no visa in his American passport and we have yet to receive his Belgian one, we weren't sure we could legally take him on a plane. :)

So, Vovo came here and we had a great time. The weather was beautiful so we got to spend a lot of time outdoors.

We took Vovo to a playground on the Quai in the St. Michel quartier of Bordeaux. On the way, we stopped at the blue lion statute at Stalingrad tram stop and then walked across the Pont de Pierre to the playground. We had never been to this playground before and were surprised by how crowded it was on a Monday afternoon. Usually playgrounds are empty any day except Wednesday (when French kids are out of school). And I was also surprised by how many parents (as opposed to nannies) were with their children. Then we noticed that most of the children and families were not speaking French. So, clearly, this is the playground for all of us immigrants. :) Owen was a bit overwhelmed by the crowd but perked up once the swings became available.

We decided that Sean would meet us in town and we'd go out for a pizza dinner at Peppones. As we waited for Sean, we decided to take Owen to the Foire de Plaisirs (Pleasure Fair, basically a portable amusement park that has been set up in Bordeaux for the month of March in celebration of Carnaval). Owen rode in the carousel and won a fire truck by fishing for ducks.

Vovo also got to visit Maison Soleil and Halte Garderie Nicholas et Pimpernelle - two of the indoor playgyms that Owen and I attend. Owen enjoyed having the extra attention and showing off all the toys. And I think Vovo enjoyed seeing what our "normal" routine in Bordeaux is like.

On Thursday, we took Vovo to our new favorite park in Gradignan (see post below). It was a GORGEOUS spring day and Owen enjoyed the walk around the animal park.

Owen was sad to see Vovo leave and we're hoping to see her again in June, this time with Grandpa and maybe Aunt Barbara!

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Owen: Then and Now

I just took this picture of Owen last week and it reminded me so much of a picture from almost 2 years ago so I had to show them together. Enjoy!

Owen, March 2010, Bordeaux

Owen, May 2008, New York

Saturday, March 20, 2010

French Healthcare Experience #1

I'm sure I'll lose count eventually but today was our first experience with the French healthcare system since becoming official recipients of coverage.

It was totally my fault and I'm still feeling a bit overwhelmed and guilty so please forgive any rambling. I'm posting as much for my own mental health as I am to describe the cultural experience.

This weekend Sean is playing in his first frisbee tournament with 33 tours, Bordeaux's ultimate team. I took Owen in the afternoon to watch daddy play frisbee. As the final point of the final game was being scored (Sean's team lost), I must have pulled a bit awkwardly on Owen's arm. I heard a clicking noise like a knuckle cracking, a delayed pause, and Owen started crying. When I asked him where it hurt he pointed to his arm. He continued to cry every time I touched his arm (which I did a lot while trying to figure out if it was broken) and he wanted to go home. We took him home but noticed that he refused to use his left arm for anything, including holding a truck so you know it had to hurt. We decided to take him the hospital. Bordeaux has a fairly prestigious university hospital with a children's urgent care center. So, we hopped in the car and drove the 20 or so minutes to get there.

The Children's Urgent Care (Urgence d'Enfants) Center is located downstairs from the parking lot. When we arrived there were about 5 or 6 other families there. But not a single fussy child. Even Owen was calm and we brought the computer with the Cars Movie DVD to keep him entertained since we didn't know how long it would take.

Our first experience was checking in. Just like an Urgent Care facility in the US (in which we had several experiences during Owen's first 21 months of life), you have to sign in at the desk. They ask for the purpose of your visit and a signature from a parent and then send you to the a different person to handle insurance.

So, step 2, insurance. We haven't received our carte vitale (health insurance card) yet. This card has a microchip in it that contains information about your social security number and health insurance provider. While France does have national healthcare, the social security system does not pay the full cost of the services (usually only covers 70%) so most people, including us, have supplemental insurance. We have been filling out forms for over 3 months and all we have to prove that we have supplemental health insurance in France is a letter from our provider. We're still waiting for the correct paperwork to be processed so we can receive our cards. Anyway, naturally, in our eagerness to get Owen to the hospital, we forgot this letter at home so all we had was the card from the insurance provider with their phone number on it. When we handed it to the lady at the hospital she said it was basically useless. We told her we had just moved to Bordeaux so were still waiting for the cards and she said, "D'accord" (Okay) and told us to take a seat.

Steps 1 + 2 took a total of 4 minutes.

Step 3: Waiting. Okay, so any one who's been to an urgent care center expects to wait. As I mentioned, we had a DVD to keep Owen occupied but I was really impressed at how calm everyone seemed. Even the parents. There was a separate entrance for the kid brought by ambulance to the facility but still, no one seemed to be in a hurry. No one was going up to the desk to ask when their turn would be. They just sat and waited. We waited too. For about 45 minutes. Then a nurse came out and to gather some more details about the "incident" and then told us the doctor would be ready for us in a few minutes. Less than a minute later the nurse came to get us.

Of note for anyone reading this who is involved in healthcare in the states, when the nurses would come out to get the kids, they would call the first name and if no one responded they would call out the kiddo's full name. And here I spent so much time over the past 5 years learning about the HIPAA regulations! In France, no one seemed to care about privacy!

Which brings me to Step 4: The examination, diagnosis, and treatment
We were taken through automatic doors into, what I thought would be, a hall of examination rooms. Nope. We were told to put Owen on a gurney bed right next to the door, in the hallway, where the doctor came and looked at him. There were several other similar beds in the hallway. And an examination table in a room off to the left with the doors wide open and I could see an older boy, maybe 6 or 7, lying on the table.

The doctor felt Owen's arm then started telling Owen in French what he would be doing and then started taking off Owen's shirt. Since Owen didn't understand the doctor, he freaked when his arm was touched. And since Owen was crying so loud, neither Sean nor I was really listening to what the doctor said. And then the nurse tried to take George (Owen's Lion wubbanub soothie). Owen grabbed George, crying hysterically, and repeating, "Owen take him away"). Sean and I could not figure out why the nurse, who seemed so nice, was being so mean. But then we noticed that Owen was holding onto George with his left, injured hand! Clearly, the doctor had already fixed Owen's arm and was making sure that everything was in order! Literally, we were there for less than 5 minutes! When we noticed that his arm was better we told Owen and that made him stop crying and look at his arm. It was really cute. He kept saying, "Owen's all better". Then the nurse handed us Owen's shirt.

This was all done in the hallway. After we had Owen's shirt back on, the doctor told us not to pull too hard on a child's arm. That he should be fine but we could give him doliprane (tylenol) if he seemed to be in pain. I've been telling Sean not to pull Owen up by the hands since Owen was born so I can't really explain why I have started playing this way with him now other than he always laughs and wants more. But not anymore! The official diagnosis was Nursemaid's Elbow, or at least that's what Sean and I came up with from an internet search since the doctor didn't tell us a name. All he said was "yes" when Sean asked whether it was the ligament.

Step 5: We're free to go?
The doctor spent all of 5 minutes with us and then abruptly leaves with the nurse to go see the next kiddo. We sit on the gurney for a minute, not sure whether we can go. Remember we haven't paid anything yet. So, Owen and I go out the Sortie (Exit) door and Sean goes back to the waiting room to ask the lady at the desk if we can go. We're given the all clear and we leave. We didn't pay a single cent but we also didn't show a useful piece of identification. So, now we're waiting to see if we get a bill or anything. I'll keep you posted.

In the meantime, Owen is a totally different kid! As we go up the stairs to the car, Owen wants to run and hold toys in both hands. When we get to the parking lot, I tell him to take my hand to cross and he grabs my hand with his left (previously injured) and pulls me across the street at full speed. I, of course, have images of a relapse just outside the hospital doors but Owen is fine. And happy. And, really, that's the most important part. Thank goodness we trusted our instincts and took him to the hospital instead of waiting to see how he felt in the morning. It wouldn't have gotten better on its own.

We spent almost as much time getting to and from the hospital as we spent there! I have to say, it was quite a good experience as far as hospital trips go.

Since, I still feel immensely guilty, we spoiled Owen by letting him finish the Cars DVD at home while eating dinner. And now that he's asleep, I'm trying to soothe myself with a glass of wine. And an early bedtime.

Friday, March 19, 2010

An urban park extraordinaire

Last weekend, we ventured out to Gradignan, another banlieue (suburb) of Bordeaux. An assistante maternelle (literally, mother's assistant, these women belong to a professional organization of nannies and are licensed to watch 2-4 children at a time) that I met told me about the Parc de Molineau. This is a big urban park with a mediatheque (a multimedia library), running/biking trails, and La Maison de la Nature (literally The House of Nature, more about this later).

It was a beautiful pre-spring afternoon! Although the directions I found on Google Maps took us a long way around, it's only about a 15 minute drive from our house. And we all had a great time!

Outside the mediatheque there is a field of statues. We all enjoyed playing here:

Next, Owen and Sean through rocks into the river on our way to the parc animalier and aquarium:

I am definitely adding this park onto our list of tour stops for visitors. Gradignan is a very kid-friendly and organic-friendly ville.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Spring has sprung

As spring approaches, we are starting to see the true beauty of living in the observatory park. Here are a few pictures of the flowers and trees that surround our house. We have irises:


Plum trees:

And GIANT mimosa trees:

Close-up details... it's really an impressive tree!

Now, we're just anxiously awaiting to see what M. Chatelier will plant/has planted in the HUGE garden. We know there are fraises (strawberries), lettuce, radis noirs (black radishes), and oignons et ails (onions and garlic) but there is still a lot of earth left...

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Ridin' in Style: Version Francais

Bordeaux was named one of the most bike friendly towns in France. So, even though, technically, we do not live in Bordeaux, but in a suburb called Floirac, Sean was very excited for our shipment from Colorado to arrive. Because buried amongst the 50-some-odd boxes of toys, clothes, pictures, and other material items ( which we thought we'd want/need in France but didn't seem to miss in the 4 months that we were separated) was Sean's bike!

So, in anticipation of having Sean's bike reassembled, we bought Owen a new bicycle seat. We miss the bike trailer (see Ridin' in Style from 2008) but it just isn't practical in a place where many people seem to drive too fast and the bike trailer is still a new concept. We are definitely not in Boulder anymore.

Sean finished putting the bicycle together and we installed Owen's bike seat. The boys just left for a test ride. So, literally, hot off the presses, here are the first pictures of Owen in his bicycle seat. Taken within the last 10 minutes: